Rocky Chávez opens Senate exploratory committee

Assemblyman Rocky Chávez announced Tuesday that he’s forming an exploratory committee for the U.S. Senate seat that Barbara Boxer will vacate in 2016.

Rocky Chávez“Our nation suffers from a lack of clear leadership when it comes to issues of national security and looking out for California families who have seen stagnant wage growth for almost two decades,” Chávez, R-Oceanside, said in a news release. “My story is like that of so many other California families, having worked in the grape fields with my uncle and cousins as a child to seeing one of my own children attend an Ivy League medical school. That’s the American Dream, and it’s what every parent hopes to see for their own children. But if we don’t take steps to protect our nation and help create more opportunities for our children, we risk losing that Dream.”

Chávez, 63, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a colonel, describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. A former Oceanside city councilman and former acting secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, Chávez was elected to the Assembly in 2012 to represent the 76th District in northern San Diego County. He’s the Legislature’s only Republican Latino. (Ed. note: I shouldn’t have taken Chavez’ biography page as the gospel: Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, is Latino as well.)

Chávez is the first Republican to take the step of forming an exploratory committee; former state GOP chairmen Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette and Duf Sundheim of Los Altos Hills have expressed interest in running but haven’t decided yet.

The only person who has declared candidacy so far is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat; other Democrats including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are considering running too.

California’s Latinos will form a crucial voting bloc in this high-turnout presidential election year, but they tend to break heavily toward Democrats. Chávez seems undaunted.

“My strong history of leadership and compelling personal narrative give me great confidence,” he said. “I believe we can start a movement that will make a real difference in the lives of California families.”


Former Oaklander confirmed as Justice Dept.’s #3

The U.S. Senate today confirmed a former Oakland resident, and the brother-in-law of California’s attorney general, as third-in-command at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tony WestThe roll call on Tony West’s confirmation as associate attorney general was 98-1, with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the only dissenter; Jerry Moran, R-Kan., didn’t vote.

“As a key member of the department’s senior management team, he has led with integrity, acting always in the best interests of the American people and in accordance with the finest traditions of public service,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news release. “I applaud his confirmation by the U.S. Senate today, and look forward to continuing to work with him as Associate Attorney General – a role in which he has excelled, in an acting capacity, for more than a year.”

President Obama nominated West to this post last September, but he has served as the acting associate attorney general since March 2012; before that he had been the assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s civil division since April 2009.

Earlier, he’d been a special assistant to the deputy attorney general from 1993 to 1994; a federal prosecutor in San Francisco from 1994 to 1999; a special assistant attorney general at the California Department of Justice from 1999 to 2001; and then a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

I first met West when he was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and he later became a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s first presidential campaign. His wife, Maya Harris, is vice president for democracy, rights and justice at the Ford Foundation, and sister to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

West, 47, now oversees the department’s civil litigating sections (the Antitrust Division, Civil Division, Civil Rights Division, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Tax Division); grant-making components (the Office of Justice Programs, Office on Violence Against Women, and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services); and other sections including the Community Relations Service, Executive Office of U.S. Trustees, Office of Information Policy and Foreign Settlement Claims Commission. He’s also co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico; vice chair of the steering committee of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force; and the federal government’s chief Freedom of Information Act officer.

He’s a graduate of Harvard College, where he served as publisher of the Harvard Political Review, and of Stanford Law School, where he was president of the Stanford Law Review.


Google takes heat for Inhofe fundraiser

Mountain View-based Google is taking some heat for hosting a fundraiser for a U.S. Senator who is an outspoken disbeliever in man-made climate change, despite the company’s green rhetoric.

Google’s Washington, D.C., office will host a lunch Thursday, at $250 to $2,500 per plate, to benefit U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., just a month after Google chairman Eric Schmidt said those who deny climate change and global warming are liars.

Climate-change activists plan to picket outside in order to “remind people of Google’s professed culture of ethics, environmental stewardship, and respect for scientific truth which help make Google products so popular,” according to a news release. “They’ll also remind people of Sen. Jim Inhofe’s long record of unethical environmental destruction and promotion of anti-scientific conspiracy theories on behalf of the likes of Koch Industries, his biggest corporate funder.”

The protestors say they’ll deliver 10,000 signatures of people from across the nation calling on Google CEO Larry Page to end his company’s support for politicians like Inhofe.

“We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn’t mean we endorse all of their positions,” a Google spokesperson replied to my email Wednesday. “And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma.”


Senate rejects Feinstein’s assault-weapons ban

In addition to rejecting the Manchin-Toomey gun background check amendment today, the U.S. Senate also soundly rejected Dianne Feinstein’s effort to re-instate and expand the federal ban on assault weapons.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., last month had announced that he wouldn’t let Feinstein’s legislation proceed as part of a bigger gun-control bill, but that she would be given a chance to offer it as an amendment. That amendment was defeated Wednesday on a 40-60 vote.

“I’m disappointed by today’s vote, but I always knew this was an uphill battle. I believe the American people are far ahead of their elected officials on this issue, and I will continue to fight for a renewed ban on assault weapons,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement issued a few minutes ago.

A federal assault weapons ban was enacted in 1994 but expired in 2004.

“The very fact that we’re debating gun violence on the Senate floor is a step in the right direction, and I hope my colleagues vote their conscience and approve the underlying bill. But I’m certain that in the coming months and years, we will be forced to confront by other incidents like Newtown, where innocents are murdered with one of these weapons of war,” Feinstein said. “I will carry on this fight against military-style assault weapons, and I ask of the American people that they continue to pressure their elected officials to take action. It’s long overdue that we take serious steps to remove these dangerous firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines from society.”

Feinstein’s amendment would’ve banned the future sale, manufacture, possession and importation of 157 of the most commonly-owned firearms it deems military-style assault weapons, plus any other semi-automatic firearm that can take a detachable ammunition magazine and has one or more military characteristics and any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds – much like California’s ban. Her amendment would’ve exempted weapons that were legally-owned at the time of enactment and excluded 2,258 hunting and specific makes and models of sporting weapons.


Liberals target Senate Dems for gun vote

Liberal groups already are launching efforts to deny re-election money to the four U.S. Senate Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey gun background check amendment today.

The vote was 54-46 in favor – not enough “yea” votes to reach the 60-vote threshold to which Senate leaders have agreed for amendments. The Democrats who voted against the amendment were U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Max Baucus, D-Mont.; and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed his vote to “no” toward the end as a parliamentary tactic, reserving the right to bring up the bill again.

Baucus, Begich and Pryor all are up for re-election in 2014.

In an e-mail blast, Courage Campaign founder and chairman Rick Jacobs said the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rely on individual donors from all over the nation to get senators elected – something that’s particularly true for senators in “purple” states.

“Tell the DNC and DSCC you won’t donate a single penny to any Senator who opposes universal background checks for gun purchases,” Jacobs wrote. “The NRA can play hardball – but so can you. We’re the activists, the Democratic base. We’re the people who donate in elections, knock on doors, and get out the vote in tight elections. We’re the difference on Election Day all around the country.

“Sign the petition: ‘I won’t donate a dime or lift a finger to help any Democrat who opposes universal background checks get elected,’” Jacobs urged.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced it’ll run full-page newspaper ads against the four Senators.

“Today, the Senate voted against the 91% of Americans who support background checks to stop gun violence,” PCCC cofounder Stephanie Taylor said in a news release. “We’ll be holding accountable Democrats who voted against their constituents by running ads in their states, featuring some of the 23,000 gun owners who have joined our campaign for common sense gun reform”

And Democracy for America spokesman Neil Sroka said “Democrats who were too cowardly to get on the right side of a 90-10 issue like universal background checks better believe that the progressives will remember their spinelessness on gun violence prevention come reelection time. The over 1 million members of Democracy for America nationwide work to elect progressive fighters, not U.S. Senators who can be cowed by the right-wing fringe and gun industry lobbyists like the NRA.”

Some of the Democratic senators who opposed the amendment have explained their votes. Heitkamp issued a statement Wednesday:

“I’ve been adamant from the very beginning of this conversation that the focus should be on mental health issues, full and accurate reporting into the NICS database and ensuring that we are prosecuting criminals in possession of or trying to possess firearms. This conversation should be about what is in people’s minds, not about what is in their hands. I commend Senators Manchin and Toomey for working so hard to bring a serious bill to the floor. However, in its current form I do not see a path for my support. I’ve thought long and hard about this, I’ve taken the tough meetings, and I’ve heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota; and at the end of the day my duty is to listen to and represent the people of North Dakota.”

Pryor posted to his Facebook page Wednesday:

“After talking with Arkansans, I’ve decided to oppose the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s too broad, unworkable, and unreasonable for hunters and gun owners in our state. Instead, I’ll support the Grassley amendment that better enforces the laws we already have on the books and protects the rights of law-abiding Arkansans.”

And Begich made his views known before last week’s cloture vote:

“I’ve long believed we don’t need more laws restricting the Second Amendment rights of Americans, we need to better enforce those on the books. So I’ll continue to fight against any new laws which infringe on our rights. At the same time, we can keep our communities safer by keeping guns out of the wrong hands and providing our schools more resources. That is why Senator Graham and I wrote a bipartisan bill which has been supported by both the NRA and mental health groups.”

“I voted today against the so-called cloture motion because I strongly disagree with many of the provisions of the anti-gun legislation currently on the Senate floor. By my vote, I’ll continue to work for the opportunity to consider more sensible measures to make our communities safer. I’ll continue to oppose any proposal that undermines the fundamental rights of Alaskans.”


Which senators are gun-control swing votes?

Guess which two U.S. Senators top the list of those most likely to be swing votes in favor of gun control bills?

Hint: Not California’s.

While Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are considered gimmes for such legislation (and in fact are often among its authors), it’s U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who topped the Sunlight Foundation’s swing-vote list as most likely to vote yea. Max Baucus, D-Mont., came up as the Democrat among the swing votes who’s most likely to oppose gun control bills, while John McCain, R-Ariz., was the Republican swing vote most likely to oppose.

“Absent a major pressure campaign to push senators to support gun control legislation, the political calculus points against the Senate passing any reform,” study authors Lee Drutman and Zander Furnas wrote on the foundation’s blog

Sunlight collected relevant data on 26 senators (19 Democrats, 2 Independents and 5 Republicans) whom it saw as potentially conflicted on a gun vote. That is, any Republican who didn’t get at least an A rating from the NRA, and any Democrat who didn’t get an F rating. The researchers then created a 0-through-10 scoring system on factors that could lead to a higher likelihood of opposing gun control legislation, including:

    More contributions by gun rights groups to the senator in the last election (and fewer contributions to the senator’s opponent);
    A lower Obama vote share in the 2012 election in the senator’s state; and
    More registered firearm and “destructive device” dealers, manufacturers, importers and exporters per 100,000 residents in the senator’s state.

Here’s how the list shook out:

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) 10
Sen. Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL) 10
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) 9.12
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) 8.71
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) 8.5
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) 8.35
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) 7.65
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) 7.64
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) 7
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) 6.99
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) 6.86
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) 6.59
Sen. Angus King (I-ME) 6.38
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) 6.34
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) 5.95
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) 5.82
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 5.68
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) 5.02
Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) 4.78
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) 4.1
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) 3.71
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) 3.55
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) 2.93
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) 1.03
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) 0
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) 0

“Since our baseline assumption is that Republicans will tend oppose gun control, and Democrats will tend to support it, the scores we provide are not comparable between parties. A Democrat with a score of five and a Republican with a score of five, are unlikely to have the same probability of supporting gun control legislation,” the authors noted. “Rather, we offer the scores as a way of comparing between members of the same party.”

See the Sunlight Foundation’s infographic on this, after the jump…
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